Journalist Nellie Bly circled the world in 1890 faster than anyone ever had. She travelled alone, with just a Gladstone bag, and shattered the fictional 80-day record of Phileas Fogg, arriving back after 72 days. Awed by her achievement and shocked by its present-day obscurity, I set off from London to re-enact her circumnavigation 125 years later with the aim of getting Nellie Bly ‘back on the map’ and with the blessing of Women in Journalism. Both of our journeys are captured in Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World published this month by Pen and Sword Books.
A WIJ member for more than 15 years, I followed in Nellie Bly’s global footsteps to celebrate her as the pioneer of investigative journalism, to thank her for opening newsroom doors to women, and to pay tribute to the ‘nothing is impossible’ determination that sent her whirling solo around a man’s world.
Bly burst through barriers that kept women in their place – and took hers on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Although her travels tend to define Nellie Bly, I most admire her for going undercover to reveal the atrocities inside a women’s insane asylum. The publication of Behind Asylum Bars and Ten Days in a Mad-house ignited sweeping reforms and marked the dawning of investigative journalism. Throughout her career, Bly’s reporting challenged injustice, exposed corruption and gave voices to vulnerable people. But it was her global race that made her the most famous woman of the time.
We both travelled alone with one small bag. She went by ocean liner and train. I flew. Bly voyaged through the Victorian era, breaking boundaries along the way. I streamed through the information age, blogging as I went. For more than a month, through eight countries and over 22,500 miles, I re-blazed the Nellie Bly trail across Europe and Asia before heading to America to re-visit the scenes of her anxious departure from New York City and her triumphant return.
I felt closest to her in Jules Verne’s study in Amiens, France, on the sweeping verandas of Asia’s grand hotels, and inside the inside the belly of Japan’s Great Buddha in Kamakura. We toured the botanical gardens and Temple of the Tooth in her Ceylon and my Sri Lanka, rode the same tram to the Peak in Hong Kong, and admired the Emperor’s Imperial Palace in Tokyo where Nellie was a guest. En route, we conquered raging tropical storms, rejoiced in the kindness of strangers and returned from our travels with a steadfast belief in humanity.
Following Nellie Bly by Rosemary J Brown (£19.99 Pen and Sword). WIJ members, use code WOMEN25 when checking out on the Pen and Sword website for a 25% discount on the RRP.
As seen in Harper’s Bazaar April 2021, The Guardian and The People’s Friend, 27 March 2021 issue, and the Following Nellie Bly website.
For more information, to request a review copy for your publication/broadcast, or to arrange an interview, please contact me here.